Sunday, December 31, 2006

Xin nian kuaile

Happy new year to all those out there studying the facinating and challenging Chinese language. And even more so to anyone out there who is thinking of starting in 2007.

Friday, December 22, 2006

ChineseBlast: Strangely Attractive

Chris pointed out the ChineseBlast site a few days ago, and I find it strangely attractive. That is to say I like it, but I can't figure out why. On the face of it, it seems like like a subset of ChinesePod: A dialog with transcripts in Pinyin, Hanzi and English.

It has something that Chinesepod doesn't have - it allows users to cooperate on the transcripts of audio clips and so arrive at the understandings by themselves - like a specialized wiki.

But even without getting into that functionality, what I like about it is the immediacy of it all and the ease with which I can go back and listen again and again to the dialog in order to see if I have finally got it. My old French teacher (I'm talking about 25 years ago) used to talk about the boomerang method: constantly going back on what you learned yesterday, and the day before, and last week, but in increasingly less detail. I've found this to be effective.

With ChinesePod, much as I appreciate and enjoy the banter between Ken, Jenny and John, I would like to be able to go back and just listen to the dialog. I wonder would it represent a lot of work (and little gain) for the guys over at ChinesePod to publish a dialog-only version of each lesson, to facilitate those of us who can only devote small pockets of time and would like to use that time to maximum benefit?

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

A goal to aim for.

It's finally going to happen. I'm going to China.

Well actually, it's 12 months away, but I'm going to need every moment of it to get my Chinese into any shape. My wife and I have decided to up stakes for 8 months and take our daughters around the world from December 2007 until August 2008 (I'm blogging about this separately).

Our first stop will be China, and although we'll only stay for 2 weeks, we'll hopefully fit in Beijing, Shanghai and Xi'an. We have an old friend who we met in Germany when we lived there, but who has since returned to Beijing. Hopefully I'll call in to the folks in Chinesepod to say ni hao (or zuijin zenme yang, or whatever ;-).

If anyone out there has any recommendations about what to see, how to see it, how to prepare from a language perspective, all advice is welcome. I'll already had some very useful advice from my teacher here in Cork.

The trip is obviously a very exciting enterprise with lots of preparation required, but it's also a great spur to turning up the effort in peeling Mandarin a bit further and faster.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

What? Not even hello?

My new Chinese colleague here in Cork tells me that nobody really uses ni3hao3 when they greet each other. Even less ni3hao3ma?
I'm devastated! The very first thing I learned in Chinese and it isn't really Chinese. I can understand that I have to discard much of what I acquire in the process of learning, according to the useful Aikido metaphor of Shu-Ha-Ri.
But now what the hell do I say when I meet a Chinese person and want to just say 'hi'? My new colleague says that I should just jump into conversational Chinese. Ask what the other person is up to. Say something topical. This is more intimidating than the language itself! Now I have to have a whole list of questions, topics and stories prepared, ready to be deployed at the drop of a hat, honed carefully and adjusted according to the person that I meet. This is the kind of social skill that is normally only demanded of diplomats and those running for public office.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Breakthrough! Oh - hang on.

Last night, driving home in the dark and rain after my last Chinese lesson of the year (where my tongxuemen and I gave a very lacklustre performance of rang shijie chong man ai - thanks to liulianxiaoyu from the Chinesepod forum for the help in finding this song) I switched on the radio to hear the presenter say "And now we'll listen to some famous lines from that most famous of Irish plays". The next thing I heard startled me. I could have sworn that the actors were speaking mandarin Chinese. I didn't understand what they were saying, but it was clear that I was hearing chinese. But this is an Irish play, dating back to the start of the last century!

"Breakthrough!" I thought to myself. I'm starting to hear the Chinese language even where it doesn't exist. Finally this language is getting under my skin. Fantastic! I was soon to be disappointed. The presenter returned to explain that this was the mandarin version of Playboy of the Western World, by J.M. Synge, as produced by an Irish theatre company . The show has already played successfully in Beijing and is about to open in Dublin. According to the director, who was interviewed during the broadcast, the cast will return to China and play in Shanghai (so check it out there Chinesepod people!)